Friday, August 5, 2011

The Russians are Not My Friends

The Devil
Leo Tolstoy

ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? She’s the “devil”?
To be fair, I probably should have seen that coming.

I. Do. Not. Get. It. Why do people like Tolstoy?

It has been nearly three years since I read Anna Karenina, and hated it. The only other classic Russian novel I’d read was Crime and Punishment, which, guess what? I also hated it.

Okay, I will try to stop sputtering and actually talk about the novella. I gave this a try because I thought maybe my problem with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky was that their books were so needlessly loooonnnnngggg. (Seriously - have you read Crime and Punishment? Have you read The Tell-Tale Heart? Poe does a much better job in like 1/300th of the pages.)

Apparently, the length is not what is bothering me. This slim little volume checked in at a mere 100 pages, and that was with an alternate ending thrown in.

So, Yevgeny Irtenev is the young master of a Russian estate. He takes over after his father’s death, and tries to rebuild, as dear old dad had run up a bunch of debts, and was in danger of losing everything.

Yevgeny is single, and likes to have a bit of fun with the ladies. Only “for his health” of course.  Now that’s he’s moved out to this estate, there’s no convenient place for him to find some action. He doesn’t approve of relations with a married woman, or with a “maid in his own village,” or a peasant woman. Finally, after two months, he just can’t take it anymore and turns to a trusted family friend to bring him a woman.

It goes downhill from there. There’s the awful woman with the loose morals contrasted with Yevgeny’s perfect, but featureless wife. There’s the hen-pecking mother-in-law.  There’s all this talk about “poor” Yevgeny, who still has the means to take a vacation on the Crimean peninsula for two months.  

The one thing I “liked” was that Tolstoy picked the ending that he did. The alternate was even more awful.

If anyone has a suggestion for a Russian novel that is different from these, and I actually might like, I’d be willing to try it. Of course, I may have to wait another three years to get over this one.


Allie said...

I'm sorry you weren't a fan! I just finished Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and really enjoyed it!

What about reading something by another Russian author? I have limited experience, but I read Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons last year and was blown away. It is also on the shorter side (I think 250-300 pages).

MJ said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Allie. I've decided Tolstoy isn't my cup of tea, but I'm usually willing to give just about anything a try.

Kinga Bee said...

Try Master and Margarita by Bulghakov. It is slightly different. I don't know how you feel about magical realism, though.

Eva said...

If you want to stuck with nineteenth cent classics, how about some Gogol or Chekhov? And Master & Margarita would be my pick for Soviet writing. ;) For a contemporary Russian author, I loved Medea's Children by Lumila Ulitskaya!

MJ said...

@Kinga Bee
I like magical realism, and I've heard god things about "Master & Margarita." Thanks for the suggestion!

MJ said...

That's 2 for "Master and Margarita!" I really think I will have to give that one a try. Thank you for the other suggestions as well. I figure I'll try a couple more before I swear off the Russian classics forever :-)

K @ BaffledBooks said...

No way! Just last night I was trying to choose what books I wanted to do for the Art of Novella Challenge, and that one was at the top of the list!

MJ said...

@K @ BaffledBooks
Well, K, I'm sure plenty of people like this. It just wasn't for me. If you try it, be sure to tell me what you thought!

Cass said...

Have you read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich? That's my favorite novel by a Russian author. No lady devils!

MJ said...

Cass, I have not read that. I will certainly add it to the list of suggestions :-)